Last week, we met up once again with Jim Curran from Cape Cod 5. For this seminar, Jim introduced us to Joseph Hawley - Vice President, Senior Financial Advisor, and Beth Thompson - Vice President, Wealth Management Officer, members of the Cape Cod 5 financial Team. Together, they outlined the best starting points and everyday practices that can get us all on the road to long-term security and safety of our financial futures and those of our family.
Before we dive into the wisdom, you may be wondering “why is this important?” Why even consider these things - perhaps you’re just starting out, thinking that considerations like this shouldn’t be on your horizon for quite a while. We are all at different stops on our road to financial wellness, and we’re hoping that the information discussed might:
Inspire you to start thinking about how to get your financial affairs in order
Help you to uncover areas that need immediate attention and action
Give you peace of mind about how your financial life is organized
Make things much easier for the most important people in your life – your family
Please keep in mind while reading this article that we are in no way attempting to give anyone legal advice. Our purpose is to inform you of your options so you can decide if you would like to reach out to legal advisors of your own to re-visit, or to take your first, financial steps in this process.
What legal documents should I have? How does each one help me to secure my finances?
Will - One type legal document that will help to secure finances and protect family members is a will. A will is a legal document that designates what happens to your property after you die, and gives you the opportunity to name guardians for minor children and name your Personal Representative (estate executor).
Without a will, state law will dictate how your estate is to be distributed. Not only can this take quite a bit of time to make its way through the legal system, but there is the potential that your assets may be divvied up in ways contrary to what you want. Having a will ensures that any items listed will be dispersed to the right people (think: making sure your grandson gets that old Camaro in the garage or your niece gets some funds to help her through college.) As with all legal documents, safety is important - keep the original in a secure place, like a safe deposit box. Additionally, your attorney should have a copy; as should the person you have designated as your Personal Representative. Your Personal Representative is the person appointed by you whom you trust to carry out the wishes outlined in the will responsibly.
Durable Power of Attorney - Having a Durable Power of Attorney appointed delegates authority to an individual to act, while you are alive, on your behalf regarding legal and financial affairs. For instance, if you are rendered incompetent via coma, Alzheimer's, or any other state, your durable power of attorney is able to oversee your financial matters: from investments to making sure your bills are paid on time. Note that if/once you’ve passed away, this document no longer applies, as it remains active only when you are alive. Once you’ve passed the attention then shifts to a will or a trust.
Trusts - Trusts minimize your estate tax exposure, avoid probate court (wills are passed through probate court and can sometimes take a while, leaving bills to pile up unpaid as funds have yet to become released), and cover other final wishes. An estate attorney can advise you on whether a trust should be part of your estate plan. In a trust document, you name a successor trustee - someone who will oversee your assets. If you have a special needs child you can leave assets to them in a trust so their benefits aren’t troubled as they age; this will help them continue their lives.
Healthcare Proxy - A Healthcare Proxy delegates authority to make medical decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated and unable to make these decisions on your own behalf. This can include treatment options, as well as the decision to extend or halt life support technologies.
Medical Directive/Living Will - Hand-in-hand with your Healthcare Proxy is a medical directive. This document outlines your medical care wishes in case you are unable to speak for yourself due to a medical incident. It typically covers what measures you want or do not want taken to keep you alive.
***It is immeasurably important that, with each individual named in any/all of these documents. You have full trust in their abilities to make necessary decisions and to carry out your wishes your way. Some advice from the Cape Cod 5 team on how to decide who to name on these documents:
It is ideal to name mature and trusted family members.
Caution against naming friends. It can put them in an awkward position relative to your family members.
Professionals such as attorneys, bankers and accountants most likely will decline being named in these documents for professional liability reasons.
A Personal Representative will take the financial responsibility for settling your financial affairs, which can be a real burden. Consider hiring a professional (attorney or bank trust department). They have appropriate insurance to protect the estate’s heirs. Dual naming of a professional plus family member is also a possibility - this ensures that your family member is able to carry out your wishes, while the professional ensures everything is handled accurately.
Additionally, with any life changes-marriages, births, divorces, or deaths you should update, documents and make any necessary changes to avoid any legal mishaps. These documents are all legally binding, and no court will be able to care about emotional investments over what is outlined within the documents.
What legal advisors should I have? What will each one do for me?
Estate Attorney - Any of the documents we have discussed in this post should be prepared by an attorney and the Cape Cod 5 team strongly recommend that you see an experienced estate law specialist.
Accountant - Even if you currently prepare your own tax returns, consider selecting a tax professional who will take over tax work in the event that you’re no longer able to do it. Having someone lined up will be very helpful to your spouse or partner.
Financial Trust/Advisors & Broker - You should have a credentialed, experienced investment advisor working on your behalf (or at the ready) to take on responsibility of managing your investment assets when needed. Some questions that may help you to select the right advisors for you needs and lifestyle might be:
What are the services provided by this person/company? Do their offerings match what you’re looking for right now? Do they also offer services you may need as the years progress?
What is accessibility? Will they offer in-person or virtual meetings? Online platforms or paper statements?
Is this a solo operation or team?
What fees are charged?
You can also inquire as to their references, as well.
Insurance Agent/Advisor - The rule of thumb when it comes to insurance: review your coverage every two years, particularly any life insurance policies you may own. Is your life insurance coverage still needed? Are the beneficiaries still the ones you want to have? Knowing your insurance advisor will make it easier for you to reach out with these questions and to be able to keep reviewing/changing them to fit your life.
How do I verify all of this so that I know my finances and loved ones are protected?
Verification of all documentation and named entities is very important for protecting your wishes and estate. Similar to the guideline of reviewing insurance coverage every two years, it is also a good idea to verify:
IRA beneficiaries - If you don't have a named beneficiary listed, the IRA will be payable to your estate. This automatically becomes taxable, and must be paid out with 5 years.
Pension beneficiaries - Pensions can be paid out in a variety of ways. Check to see which manner yours is set up for. According to the Cape Cod 5 team, survivor-ship is the recommended method. This means that when you pass on, your spouse or children can collect the funds.
Life insurance beneficiaries - Make sure these are current! Life events such as marriage, birth, divorce and death should always warrant a fresh look at beneficiaries.
Bank account/investment account co-owners - If you’re the only person on the account, it takes a lot of time for Personal Representative to get proper paperwork, This means that no one will have access to these finds until paperwork goes through, and could risk some bills remaining unpaid during that time (think mortgage, etc.)
Signers on your safe deposit box - A safety deposit box is a great place to keep legal documents, but it could be a tough time getting inside if yous is the the only name listed. Consider allowing a co-owner on your safe deposit box paperwork, so those trusted people can access the necessary forms needed to keep your wishes in mind and your estate and family safe.
Other considerations to keep in mind while reviewing the above:
Consolidating investment, IRA, bank accounts
Converting individual stock/bond certificates to book entry ownership
Converting savings bonds to a higher earning vehicle
Preparing a letter of instruction about your preferred funeral arrangements and burial wishes
Preparing a letter of your specific items to set aside for family
Be sure that your spouse, children, and anyone listed on the documents we’ve discussed:
Know who your advisors are – introduce them
Know where your important information is located
Know what your wishes are for your funeral, burial and inheritances
What kinds of tools or systems are out there that may help me to navigate financial and health records?
Documentation - Documenting your estate, assets and wishes is always a good place to start, even if it’s as simple as outlining a list of which of your children or friends will inherit certain pieces of furniture or jewelry once you’re no longer able to keep them. Other, more official documentation can include:
List all items in your home
List all non-physical assets including
401k / IRA accounts
Insurance (home, auto, life, health, disability)
Credit card, mortgage, home equity and auto loans
Organizations you belong to/charities you support
Your digital life (ask your attorney)
Information about online accounts/passwords
List of bills paid online or on auto-pay
Give a list to your personal representative. Keep a list for yourself somewhere safe
The Cape Cod 5 team has generously provided the following templates to help with additional documentation of everyday information. Select the topic and you will be brought to the document: Organizing Financial & Legal Records and Organizing Health & Personal Records
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